You’ve probably had a dental x-ray at some point in your life, but why do we take them, when do we take them, and are they safe?
Why do we take a dental x-ray?
Like most x-rays, we take them to see what’s going on in areas that we can’t see with our own eyes. Sometimes, things can be going on below the gum line that we can’t see, or you may have caries in a tooth, but we need to see how deep it goes. We also use x-rays for treatment planning, especially with orthodontics, so we can figure out which way the teeth may track with a dental appliance fitted.
When do we take dental x-rays?
So we generally only take x-rays when clinically necessary, to reduce a persons exposure to radiation. But, we also like to keep on top of any underlying issues that may become big problems in the future, so we generally take routine x-rays every 2 years. If you have a wonderfully clean mouth with little or no dental treatment history, we can stretch this to 3 – 4 years, but best practice dicates we should take them every 2.
We also take them if you are in pain and we can’t see any obvious issue for it by looking in your oral cavity.
Routine x-rays are called bitewings (pictured below). These allow us to see as much as possible whilst using the smallest dose of radiation possible.
This x-ray is called an OPG (Orthopantomography) x-ray, and gives us a clear picture of the entire mouth, including the jaw, the jaw joints, the sinus, and a whole host of other boring dental related things.
You’ve mentioned the word radiation; is a dental x-ray safe?
In a word, yes. Dental x-rays are a common diagnostic procedure that is considered extremely safe. Digital dental x-rays have very low doses of radiation, producing just a fraction of what you are exposed to in other imaging procedures. When these x-rays are performed properly with adequate safety precautions in place, there’s very little cause for concern. A routine examination with four bitewing x-rays exposes you to roughly the same amount of radiation you will experience during one to two hours on an plane.
Pregnant women are generally advised to avoid dental x-rays. Though the radiation is minimal, it’s best to avoid all exposure when possible for the health of the developing fetus. For this reason, it’s important to tell your dentist if you are or may be pregnant.
However, there are some instances where pregnant women should still have dental x-rays performed. If you have a dental emergency or are in the middle of a dental treatment plan, you may still need x-rays during your pregnancy. Discuss the issue with your dentist to determine the best way to proceed. It’s crucial that you balance both your dental and prenatal health. Women with periodontal disease are at a higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, so you shouldn’t neglect your teeth during pregnancy.
There’s really nothing to worry about when having a dental x-ray. They’re perfectly safe, and we always keep the dose as low as reasonably possible.
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